Q & A: Rusty Burney

Oct. 30, 2009

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Oct. 14 edition of the Official Sports Report (OSR) for the University of Iowa. OSR is a daily e-newsletter exclusively about the Iowa Hawkeyes. Click HERE to learn more.

Rusty Burney is an assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Iowa, working with men’s basketball, men’s and women’s track and field, and baseball. A native of Pella, Iowa, Burney graduated from Central College in 1997, and then worked as an intern at Brigham Young University, a graduate assistant at Arkansas, an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Tulsa and the head S&C coach at Colgate before becoming a Hawkeye. Burney and his wife, April, have three children (Jordan, 16; Olivia, 4; Emma, 2) with a fourth due in April.

How does a typical day play out?
That depends on what phase of the year. In-season I get them after practice and it’s a different type of workout — we’re trying to maintain our strength. For a typical off-season workout, we start with 15 to 20 minutes of some kind of dynamic prehab, trying to prevent injuries. We really key in on single-leg strength, glut activation and ankle range-of-motion. We don’t have a true upper-body, lower body split on our lifts. We’ll go 30 to 40 minutes out on the court, then come in and lift. We’ll start with an explosive lift, then strength exercises to balance out the body. We might end up with some more injury prevention or stretching.

What are some of the most fulfilling aspects of working in your position?
Every day being able to work with high-level athletes and know that you had a piece in helping them improve. For me, it’s knowing that we’re building something here for the men’s basketball program and that we’ll be really good some day. It’s on the ground floor now, but we have a vision of where we want to go with it and that’s exciting. I always wanted to be here when I was a kid. That’s exciting to this day, even though I’m grown up, it’s still an exciting part of the job. You know this position is really important. Just knowing how much emphasis we put on the strength and conditioning program at Iowa gives me confidence.

What brings you the most job satisfaction?
Seeing the results. Seeing what we carry over onto the court, mentally and physically. Hopefully what we’ve done over the past few months has given them confidence to take things to the next level. Seeing them have success and elevate that to another level is the most satisfaction you get.

Does anything set you apart from other trainers?
I inherited a good base from some of the other strength coaches that worked with the team, so that gives me an advantage. I think a lot of times what happens is, personality-wise, if you click with the coach and click with the team, that’s probably half the battle right there. The first time I sat down with coach Lickliter, we kind of meshed in that regard and it has built from that meeting on. We want to get stronger and we want to be aggressive.

Who are some of the most famous athletes you have assisted over the years?
I’d have to think about that. I worked with a lot of NFL players at Arkansas and BYU (Brigham Young). There were a few kids at Tulsa who were NFL guys. John Tate at BYU, Cedric Hobbs and George Wilson.

With all the hours invested with these student-athletes, do you become more than a fan?
Sure. You feel like you’re part of the family, part of the team. That’s where I want to be. You don’t want to be just some guy they show up and see a couple times a week during the season. You want to be somebody that’s invested in them and they know that. They want to work with you and they know it’s important. You want to be more like family, rather than just somebody that’s a staff member.

What makes your position so significant among athletic departments?
The realization that you can get to that next level if you structure your programs the correct way. People understand they can recruit good kids and make great ones. You can take that next step. We want to give kids the best chance to move on into the professional ranks, but we work a lot on the team aspects of training. If you come to Iowa, we’re going to develop you from this level to that level. We can’t guarantee that you’re going to make it to a professional league, but we can help you attain certain mental and physical attributes.

When you were going through college and glancing toward the future, was the goal to work at the University of Iowa?
There are so many places you could work. You don’t think that will ever happen that you will end up at the place you wanted to work as a kid growing up. You don’t just walk into that situation. It’s a pleasant surprise and something you dream about — going back home, being close to parents and family. I can have that balance of being close to home and still doing what I love to do.

How would you describe your relationship with the athletes?
You want to be someone they can trust to get them to the next level. You also have to be an authority figure and get them to do things they don’t want to do. They have to get out of their comfort zone to improve. You have to find ways to get them to that level.

For someone outside the college athletics world, what is something you deal with in your job that most people wouldn’t realize?
They probably don’t understand how much time it actually takes. I usually get here around five o’clock in the morning. Some days I might be able to get out early. Other days I’ll be here until 5:30 or 6 (p.m.), sometimes even later than that. If you have a team in season, a lot of times to get your two workouts in a week, you might have to come in on Saturday or Sunday to get them a workout. Then there are games you attend, too.